The 1988 movie Heathers starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater was one of the defining pop-culture hits of the era. From the point of view of 2015, this could be seen as a blessing or a curse. We all know the horrible hair of the ’80s, and the less said about the high school fashion of the period the better. But when it comes to providing material for the type of rock-leaning, girl-forward musical theater favored by Santa Barbara’s Out of the Box Theatre Company, Heathers is blessed with seemingly every advantage, and Heathers: The Musical, which shows Thursday, November 5-Sunday, November 15, at Center Stage Theater, looks primed to make those ’80s edges count.
For Samantha Eve, founder and guiding light of Out of the Box, it’s a chance to go perhaps the deepest she’s gone yet into performing with her own company. As Veronica Sawyer, the new student who first cracks the Heathers code and then knocks the Heathers off, Eve will provide the protagonist and the central point of view. In a recent press preview, she sang, danced, and looked fresh and relaxed throughout in spite of holding the center spot. No doubt that happy look on her face was to a large degree a result of the talent this show has attracted, and of the fact that Jenny Mercein, an experienced Equity actor, director, and a lecturer in UCSB Theater Department, is the director on this project.
So what’s it like? The music is pop-rock, and not particularly ’80s, but rather the mash-up of styles and eras that’s typical of contemporary writing for the musical theater. In other words, the songs belong to the genres and idioms that the dramatic action requires. The opening number introduces the cast and the setting Westerberg High, and it is an old-fashioned ensemble dance number but punctuated with some rather more up-to-date epithets, like freak, slut, poser, and lard-ass. The choreography flows from one tableau to another without a break, thus bringing a cinematic sense of camera movement to the stage. “Kindergarten Boyfriend,” a love ballad, puts Martha Dumptruck in the spotlight. For fans of the movie who are keeping score on the plot changes, Martha would seem to have absorbed Betty Finn somewhere between the screen and the stage. The closest thing to period ’80s music is probably “Candy Store,” a funny/bitchy flirt song for the Heathers that evokes, by turns, Toni Basil and Madonna.
The cast draws on top young talent from the 805 and beyond. Madelyn Adams, who plays Heather Chandler, graduated from PCPA in 2013 and is now based in North Hollywood, which is the epicenter of SoCal’s new musical scene. Santa Barbara local and Indy Award winner Katherine Bottoms is Heather McNamara, who is considered the nice Heather, which isn’t saying much. With Kacey Link as music director and both scenic design and lighting by Ted Dolas, this show is sure to look and sound great, so get out your best blazer and call 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org for tickets and information.